Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

24/02/2015 - 28/02/2015

NZ Fringe Festival 2015 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details


Playhouse Productions are ecstatic to present their very first New Zealand Fringe Festival Production Surgery In Mind at the Gryphon Theatre in 2015.

Playhouse Productions NZ was formed in the middle of 2014 when Evangelina Telfar and Vanessa Immink bonded over their mutual passion for theatre. After coffee chats and idea throwing, they decided to produce a work in the 2015 NZ Fringe Festival. Both girls have numerous skills and experiences in the theatre industry however, are taking on new challenges this season with writing, directing and producing Evangelina’s latest play “Surgery In Mind”. The girls then sought after a passionate design team to help with the production and have formed what is now known as Playhouse Productions NZ. The team can’t wait to show their work to the 2015 Fringe festival artists and audiences.

The play revolves around young Lena, who needs to have a tumour removed from her brain. She is put to sleep but wakes up in her mind’s Underworld with a quest of discovery to complete. Through classical Greek figures that she battles and befriends, Lena learns about perception, emotion and choice but is it too late?

The season of Surgery In Mind will be
24th-28th February 2015
The Gryphon Theatre, 6:30pm
as part of the FatG programme.

Production manager: Vanessa Immink

Theatre ,

Being challenged by the realities of life

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Mar 2015

Surgery In Mind, currently playing at the Gryphon Theatre is yet another play that takes a character into their unconsciousness to be confronted with the realities of life. 

But in this play it is a real life situation of a brain tumour and the consequences of dealing with this that faces the central character Lena (Jane Paul).  While she gains sympathy from her best friend Dawn (Bethany Miller) there is a total lack of understanding from her Mum (Bronwyn Ensor) and Dad (AJ Murtagh) with everyone feeling gusty and in denial at what is happening.

Then, when the surgeon Dr Ferryman (James Ladanyi) and Nurse (Helen MacKenzie) begin to operate and the anaesthetic kicks in, Lena travels to the underworld where all these real life characters appear as figures from a Greek tragedy to challenge Lena about her guilt and denial.

Although the script is not perfect and the numerous scene changes slow the pace down, the actors perform with great energy particularly Jane Paul as Lena who is not only vocally strong and articulate but brings great integrity to the role as does Bethany Miller in her dual roles of Dawn, Lena’s friend, and Dusk the underworld siren.


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Once more into the underworld

Review by John Smythe 25th Feb 2015

And we are at the gates of hell once more. As with Fax of Life, a young woman takes time out in the underworld and has a big rethink about her behaviours, her values systems, her life … But this time her near death experience is not self-inflicted: she is undergoing an operation to remove a small tumour from her brain, and she certainly wants to return to the land of the living.

Ancient Greek theatre thrived on tragedies and comedies about human’s learning the hard way not to try to outwit ‘the Gods’. Early Christian Morality Plays required those passing on to ‘the afterlife’ to make account of their terrestrial lives by way of determining where they would spend eternity.

The genre emerging now involves young people realising they personally have the power to turn their lives around, they are not at the mercy of larger forces and maybe they have another chance. Theatre remains a splendid way to confront this universal issue, especially when the peer group of those dealing with it are making the play in the process of graduating into adulthood.

In the opening scene, writer /director Evangelina Telfar endows her central character, Lena, with song-writing skills and an abiding interest in Greek mythology, anatomy and psychology. When she goes under and into the underworld, then, by way of anaesthetic, we understand immediately that this is her mind manifesting the experience we observe.

Telfar has fun with naming the surgeon Dr Ferryman, who morphs into Charon to ferry her across the river Styx, and Lena’s best friend Dawn, who manifests as a siren called Dusk to lay a heavy – and rather unwarranted, in my observation – guilt trip on her.

Lena’s unnamed Dad and Mum turn up down below as Hades and Persephone. In real life they are extraordinarily lacking in interest in, let alone caring and compassion for, their brain-tumour afflicted daughter. This makes 18 year-old Lena something of a hero in real life, for putting up with them. Sure she has teenager tantrums but the justification allowed by her parent’s behaviour dilutes the importance of Lena having to learn a thing or two.

Jane Paul finds a compelling range in Lena, moment by moment, and clearly relishes the role. Bethany Millar is likewise tuned into both Dawn and Dusk. Bronwyn Ensor and AJ Murtagh have less dimension to play with as Mum and Dad but do them well nonetheless, moving from indifference to malevolence as Hades and Persephone.  

Intriguingly James Ladanyi finds more humanity in Charon than in his professionally focused Dr Ferryman and the relationship that Lena forms with him is quite touching. Helen Mackenzie grounds the scenario in reality as the Nurse.

The women manifest a many-bodied Cerberus (the three-headed hellhound who guards the gates to the underworld) in a song and dance sequence that needs more work if it is to ‘fly’ as Lena’s imagination would have it.  

Some dramaturgical advice would not go amiss, to attend especially to some over-writing and ‘on the nose’ dialogue. The list of ‘things I have learned’ that Lena is obliged to enumerate at the end offers a clear idea of what needs to be seen in her actions at the start, then seen in her changed behaviours at the end. Showing not telling will be far more engaging.   

The set (Lauren Stewart), props (Daniella Moore), costumes (Daniella Moore), lighting (Aaron Blackledge) and sound design (Robert Caldwell & Madison van Staden) all support the production well.

What lets it down is the directorial decision to break the action to reset each scene. A hospital bed is well utilised as Lena’s bed and the dining table at home as well, and more ingenuity could allow the transitions to occur seamlessly. 

Playhouse Productions, set up by Evangelina Telfar and Vanessa Immink (production manager), have pulled together a talented and committed team who show up the undoubted potential of this play as well as its flaws. As their first venture into the Fringe it is to be commended.


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